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Researching Ways and Means of 18th-Century Travel

Updated: Jul 5, 2022

Guest Post by Betty Bolté


While writing the A More Perfect Union series set in Charleston during the American Revolution, I had a burning question in need of an answer. The main character in Evelyn’s Promise needed to flee the area, but to where? What would be a likely destination for a widowed woman and her child to attempt to reach in 1783?


That question had me searching the historic records for a place for Evelyn, along with the man she fell in love with, to move at the end of Evelyn’s Promise. Somewhere on the new frontier, now that the American Revolution had ended. Somewhere dangerous yet appealing to the adventurous and courageous. Somewhere her friends and family would strongly object to her attempting to make the arduous journey. Especially with a child in tow.


After some digging, I found the Yazoo Lands. I liked the name as being unique and rather mysterious in a sense. A place that would have seemed foreign to the woman from the East Coast. The area encompassed the central and western parts of Georgia back when the western edge of that state reached the Mississippi River. The Yazoo nation occupied this territory along the lower part of the Yazoo, or what is now referred to as the Mississippi River. Now the Yazoo lands cover northern Alabama and Mississippi except for part of what was Spanish West Florida and a portion in South Carolina. This area was largely inhabited by the ancestors of the people today we call Native Americans. The area only sparsely had white people settling on the land, trying to start new towns and cities, in the late eighteenth century. A perfect place along the wilderness.


Having identified the ultimate destination, then I had to study the historic maps to determine the route they would most likely take to wend their way across hostile land and territory. For me, trying to understand the traffic patterns, if you will, of past roads and rivers can be quite a challenge. How would a lady with an infant travel from the eastern coast near Charlestown (present-day Charleston), South Carolina, across rough roads and trails, crossing swollen rivers, mountains, and forests to the edge of the newly independent country?

I’ve been out west to the site where the Oregon Trail begins. I’ve read about how the wagon trains traveled west toward the Pacific Ocean, across the mountains and rivers, and everything in between. The western mountains of the United States are far larger than those to the east. Still, I’d imagine the travelers would have similar concerns and difficulties, just not to the same extent. The maps can be difficult to fathom, at least to my eye.



Back to Evelyn’s journey, as difficult as it must have been, she’d most likely travel by wagon as far as possible. Perhaps later she’d be forced to ride astride through the roughest terrain, but for my purposes, she’d start out in a wagon of some fashion. Which she did through the end of the story, which ends long before she would have reached her destination. But researching the probable methods and limitations, even if not included in the final story, ensures that my historical fiction remains both plausible and authentic to the times.


I believe in understanding the situations my characters would have faced in their day and with the constraints of society and the technology available. Adhering as closely as possible, based on research, to the realities of life in the eighteenth century enriches the context of the stories. People then faced very different challenges on a day-to-day basis than we do today. The speed with which we can travel across America, and indeed the world, would be truly astonishing to people living in the 1700s. That’s one aspect of life in the past that I’ve tried to underscore for my readers. I hope that by portraying the reality of travel in the eighteenth-century readers today will have a greater appreciation for the courage and determination of the people who pushed the edge of the wilderness farther and farther west.


About Betty Bolté

Award-winning author Betty Bolté is known for authentic and accurately researched historical fiction with heart and supernatural romance novels. A lifetime reader and writer, she’s worked as a secretary, freelance word processor, technical writer/editor, and author. She’s been published in essays, newspaper articles/columns, magazine articles, and nonfiction books but now enjoys crafting entertaining and informative fiction, especially stories that bring American history to life. She earned a Master’s Degree in English in 2008, emphasizing the study of literature and storytelling, and has judged numerous writing contests for both fiction and nonfiction. She lives in northern Alabama with her loving husband of more than 30 years. Get to know her at www.bettybolte.com. Be sure to check out materials for book club discussions at https://www.bettybolte.com/bookclub.



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2件のコメント


Malve von Hassell
Malve von Hassell
2022年6月29日

I am a sucker for maps...any maps. This one really got me given your description of choosing a destination for your character. What a fun way to begin to structure your book.

いいね!
Betty Bolte
Betty Bolte
2022年7月01日
返信先

Me, too, Malve! I love examining maps, especially historical ones like this one. I even copied out a map of Charlestown created by the British during the Revolution to use as guidance for the cityscape in that same series. It helps me visualize what the characters would see.

いいね!
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